Every day, I get an email with this question: What do I do when my child is ____ ? The parent inserts a frustration or problem they are dealing with. It’s always a totally understandable and relatable problem. Believe me, I get it.
The child hurts, the parent hurts more.
And here is my answer: So often, your best step is to simply bear witness. I am sure you can look back on your childhood and remember a time when “no one noticed”. What would have happened if your father or mother, in that very moment, said, “You know what honey, it is hard”? Just those seven words. Those seven words may not have solved the problem or made it all go away, but the memory you are recalling today might be different.
Because you would have been acknowledged.
You will not be able to fix everything for your child. In fact, I often coach parents to do less so their child will learn how to cope more. And it can be a tricky balance to tackle on your own or with your spouse.
Simply begin to bear witness. Start noticing them and you will begin to see a shift. The shift may take time, it may not be overnight. A child’s pain – in the long run – will be lessened if their struggle of who to sit next to at lunch was noticed.
The Parenting Shift is made by relating to the child through shared experience. Not waving a magic wand and making it all go away nor ignoring their “drama” because it’s enough already. A common understanding allows for a shift. Isn’t it so wonderful when your husband comes home and notices the look on your face of exhaustion and kisses you on the forehead. Your experience is noticed.
Our children value the same.
Today, decide to just bear witness. Where do you think you can start? Leave a comment below.
It breaks my heart when I watch people say self-deprecating things to themselves. And when a child does it, it’s double the pain.
Why do we cope by being down on ourselves? What message does that give to a child?
Grown-ups can be self-deprecating by nature. Sometimes we see it as a sense of humor. It’s called sarcasm (a prime way we, as adults, cope). But underneath it we hurt, criticize, are bothered, maybe disappointed but we don’t say that.
Well, here’s how you really start…
How you speak to yourself becomes your child’s inner voice.
What do you say in your head about yourself?
Kids feel it.
What you say in conversation about yourself?
Kids know it.
What do you say about yourself when your kid is in the other room?
They hear it.
How we speak to ourselves and about ourselves matters because this is the model that our children will follow. Children often treat themselves how we treat ourselves.
For example, a parent will say, “But Di Ana, I have never told my child she is fat and yet she is saying ‘I am fat.’”
Let me tell you a little story…
Last week, I was looking in my mother’s antique vanity mirror. It sits in my bedroom. It’s obtrusive and the mirror a little warped on the upper right corner, but I can still manage to see my full frame.
And for the record, I never stand naked to look at my body. Nope. I’ve never been one of those women to strut my stuff nor luxuriate in being looked at.
I was alone in the room but something was quite loud. I heard the same criticisms in my head my mother always said to herself. My mother never dared to say them to me the way she would criticize herself. My mother loathed that lower belly (that as I got older noticed all women have), other parts of aging were hard for her. Always saying “I wish I had the luxury to fix these things, pointing out her neck and thighs.”
Mom always told me I had the “cutest little figure” but to herself, she displayed very different messages.
It was then it dawned on me: I hate my body as much – if not more – than my mother did. My mother’s years of criticizing herself was passed on directly to me with absolutely zero conscious intention.
Today I can’t help but think if my mother had accepted her body maybe I would have had a better chance of loving mine.
So if you want a child that exudes confidence, compassion, grace and grit, then ask yourself this…
How often does your child see you speaking kindly to/about yourself?
When my friend Karen couldn’t do her daughter’s 7th grade math homework, I heard her say, “I never did well in math, your father is the smart one.” Karen always felt less than because she didn’t go “Ivy League” like her husband.
Here’s the deal: your self-worth is not based on whether you know what a greatest common denominator is or if you went “Ivy League”. It’s about acceptance. Accepting yourself in the “not knowing, not good enough and the feelings of inadequacy”. Parents are not omnipotent creatures of perfection, but many expect themselves to be. Perfection hurts your child. It makes something unachievable as standard.
When you accept yourself in the “not knowing,” your child will accept themselves and learn more.
Remember all the “less than” limitations you may say to yourself have an impact – a lasting one – for your child.
So today, here’s what I want you to do…
Notice if you can begin to highlight your personal wins, what’s going well? Use that to fuel conversation with your child. As opposed to always leading with: what needs to be fixed, done better or all of your worries and concerns in the world.
Ask your child …
“What happened today that was really fun, exciting? (Your kids doesn’t have any) Okay …I’ll share a few of mine from work/home first!”
Model the response for the child.
“What’s something you really like about yourself today? I’ll go first or second, you choose!”
Model how to see the good in themselves.
“What’s something that was challenging today or didn’t make you feel so good? I’ll tell you mine first and then you can share, ok?”
Model how you handle a setback.
This, right here, is how you start and I ((promise)) you will start to feel a major change for your child – and for yourself. We cannot expect a child to magically model behavior they never see you do.
And always remember …
I have a ton of off-the-charts successful clients, awards out the wazoo, getting into the best schools, landing that dream job.
But when life goes south – they are at a loss. And that’s when I realized we have to do better for the next generation.
We must raise a generation that can cope.
Let me break it down like this…
The Beatles told us, “All you need is love…” True. But – John and the gang – how do we actually do that?
By making love actionable with a serious dose of empathy (for ourselves and others).
My families that focus on more empathy and less over functioning for the child thrive.
Here’s what empathy looks like (according to my girl Brené Brown)…
- I am in it with you.
- I am not here to fix you
- I am not here to feel it for you.
- I am here to feel it with you and let you know you’re not alone.
I love Brené. Her course on Imperfect Parenting is stellar. Empathy creates belonging and acceptance: a foundation for raising a child who can cope.
Those who can cope live happier lives.
Now if you say to your crying teen, “I am with you, I am not here to fix you …” they might think you’re nutso. (And no orchestration will underscore your dialogue.)
Do these 3 things when that happens…
- Be with them in the struggle – Silence parents. Just be present, not a think tank – just yet.
- Stomp on your impulse to fix it. Your impulse to fix is all about you. (Email me, I’m happy to explain it.)
- Nod in understanding. A statement like, “That is hard honey” and let them talk can mean more than 28 strategies. You have to learn how to manage your pain when seeing them in pain.
So let’s try a new spin on the Beatles classic, shall we?
“All you need is love and empathy
All you need is love and empathy
All you need is love, love, empathy is all you need.”
My lyrics might not sell a million records but it can change your child’s life (and your own) which I think might just be a tad more important.
Try it out and let me know how it goes.